Chant du ménestral, Op.71
Concerto Ballata in C for cello and orchestra, Op.108
Concerto in E flat for alto saxophone and string orchestra, Op.109
Méditation in D for violin and orchestra, Op.32
Piano Concerto No.1 in F minor, Op.92
Piano Concerto No.2 in B, Op.100
Rêverie in D flat for horn and orchestra, Op.24
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.82
Rachel Barton Pine (violin)
Marc Chisson (alto saxophone)
Alexander Romanovsky (piano)
Alexey Serov (horn)
Wen-Sinn Yang (cello)
Russian National Orchestra
Recorded 3-7 April 2010 in Svetlanov Hall, Moscow International Performing Arts Centre
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2011
CD No: WARNER CLASSICS
2564 67946-5 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 54 minutes
Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936) sometimes receives short shrift regarding his musical output. This son of St Petersburg deserves better. José Serebrier is a passionate advocate for this prolific Russian composer, someone who might well have born too late for his particular brand of romancing and tunefulness to have made the greatest of impacts – but surely as the decades flow ever onwards we can now accept Glazunov as the creator of some beautifully crafted, eloquent and vibrant music. His ballet score, The Seasons, is a masterpiece, for example.
Having already recorded Glazunov’s symphonies, it’s now good that Serebrier has collected all the composer’s concertante works in this handsome release. The set opens with the Violin Concerto (1904), another masterpiece, and, indeed, quite familiar to music-lovers, not least through Heifetz’s and other legendary violinists’ advocacy of it. Rachel Barton Pine plays this concentrated and so-likeable work with a delicious mix of elegance, beauty of tone and flexibility, ideal for its melodiousness and fantasy. Her realising of the cadenza is particularly rich in expression, and the finale – heralded by trumpet fanfares – sparkles with imagery.
Of the two piano concertos, the half-hour First (1911) is in the novel design of a ruminative opening movement followed by a set of Variations. (Of course, Beethoven used this format in his Opus 111 Piano Sonata, and Prokofiev would do similarly in his powerful and modernistic Second Symphony.) At times the opening movement seems to be dining out on Rachmaninov’s successes. The ‘tranquil’ Theme of the second movement melts in the mouth, the piano’s statement of it adding soulfulness. There follow commentaries that are heroic, lyrical and dancing, the ‘Finale’ being a grandstand conclusion true to the spirit of the ‘romantic piano concerto’. The Second (1917) introduces the soloist almost straight away as part of a reflective opening, the first of three relatively short movements that play continuously and which open up many moods and contrasts. Neatly, the finale at nine minutes plays for the same length as the first two movements combined, the middle one suggestive of nocturnal reverie, a song without words. In both works Alexander Romanovsky is fleet-fingered, characterful and committed.
Concerto Ballata (ballata is the Italian for poetry and music forms that have corresponding opening and closing stanzas) dates from 1931 when Glazunov was settled in Paris. He dedicated it to Pablo Casals, but seemingly the Spanish cellist never played it. At twenty minutes, and covering a lot of emotional ground, this intense and volatile work finds Glazunov firing on all cylinders and really testing the soloist. Wen-Sinn Yang makes a strong case for music that can be claimed as a late masterpiece in Glazunov’s catalogue. This performance draws one back to get to know further a work that is often striking and unpredictable.
The Concerto for Alto Saxophone (1934) is Glazunov’s last opus. Short it may be – fourteen minutes here – and with accompaniment from string orchestra, but it is full of charm, longing, restlessness, and even some swing. It seems that commissioner Sigurd Rascher had to badger the composer to write it, which he eventually did, at times when hospitalised, but these circumstances pale in the face of the sheer expressiveness of the music and the wholly idiomatic way that Glazunov writes for the saxophone, seeming to relish its distinctive timbre and its particular capabilities for long lines and puckish quickness. Marc Chisson is totally inside this temperate and lovely piece.
Also included are short works featuring solo instruments. Chant du ménestral (Song of the Minstrel, 1900) for cello and orchestra is a sad miniature. The Rêverie for horn, the earliest work here, has its moonlit quotient and sends the soloist into the stratosphere, such demands easily met by Alexey Serov. Placed at the end of the second disc as a peaceful encore is another relatively early title, the heartfelt Méditation for violin.
With excellent and natural sound captured in the Svetlanov Hall (Evgeny Svetlanov was also a notable conductor of Glazunov’s music) and an illuminating booklet note from José Serebrier – whose constant presence at these sessions was no doubt inspiring to the sheer quality of these performances – this is a release of generous and imaginative music, one to treasure.